More folks today have joined the debate of whether the U.S. should talk with the Taliban, most claiming talks would be too dangerous and ineffective. In a New York Times column today on the subject, Richard Bernstein quotes Robert Mnookin, chairman of the Program on Negotiation at Harvard Law, at length -- in fact, he's the only source he consults for the whole of his column (so much for fair and balanced). Mnookin draws a comparison to Churchill's decision not to talk to Hitler at the height of World War II, and Bush's decision to refuse talks after Sept. 11. Negotiations with the Taliban now would fail and essentially give them more power and control, Mnookin said.
Mnookin also adds, “With control, I have no doubt they would shut down schools for girls and do lots of things that would be disastrous.”
Like hundreds of other political pundits, Mnookin cites the conditions of Afghan women as the first, or best (?), justification of why U.S. military force in Afghanistan must continue and alternative solutions to force must be discounted. One wonders how many Afghan women Mnookin has spoken with; do they share his concern, and does he speak for them? Afghan women do speak out -- in fact, Afghan women are quite strong and willing to organize -- and they say that while they suffered incredibly under the Taliban, all Afghans, especially women, will suffer as long as the U.S. occupation continues -- no solution within the context of a military occuation will prevent that. Mnookin's "saving Afghan women" argument is not only offensive, as it makes them bargaining chips without even a seat at the bargaining table, but also a red herring from the real argument -- whether talks would work to end the occupation more quickly, to strengthen the Afghan army, to supply humanitarian aid and job training, and allow Afghanistan to rebuild itself.
But since Mnookin brought it up: will talks hurt or help Afghan women? The jury's out. If only Goldstein could write his column about that.